Few things say cool summer nights like a campfire. As the sun goes down and the temperature drops, what better way to keep the fun going outdoors than to gather with your family and friends to share warmth, ambiance, and toasted marshmallows? But with so many options to choose from—wood-burning fire pit, fire pit ring, propane fire pit, portable fire pit, etc.—how do you choose the best fire pit for you or your family? Thanks to improved technology, there are more good options than ever, so you can find the best outdoor fire pit to suit your needs whether you have a swanky deck, patio, gravel pit, or nothing but grass to set it on.
Compare styles to find the best fire pit for your family
Chances are good that if you grew up in a camping household, there was one option and one option only: a wood-burning fire pit that was likely makeshift and low to the ground. But now there are multiple types that serve different purposes, and anyone (or more!) might be the best fire pit for your situation. Running down additional options, there are propane fire pits and you can get a tabletop fire pit (wood-burning or propane) if you prefer; they can come in beautiful vessels and create a mesmerizing, relaxing display for guests. For those on the go, you might also want a portable fire pit—one you can pack with you to go camping, tailgating, or visiting friends. And there are natural gas fire pits, though they are generally the most expensive and must be connected to your house’s main gas line; however, that takes away the hassle of having to refill propane tanks or buy firewood and it’s more environmentally friendly than burning wood.
Wood you like a classic outdoor fire pit?
Wood-burning fire pits are still the best option for warmth, especially if you’re looking for a fire that can reach a fairly large radius. They’re also generally the cheapest and easiest. But they come with downsides. First, you’ll wind up smelling like, well, a campfire. It can be hard to get smoke out of clothes and hair and anyone who’s prone to migraines or asthma can have difficulty with this type of campfire. You’ll also need to douse the fire afterward or wait for the embers to cool down before you can walk away, and you’ll need a place to store wood where it won’t attract bugs or get too wet in the rain. Still, anyone with nostalgia smoldering within them will enjoy one of these fire pits.
Best fire pit ring: Inno Stage 36-inch Fire Ring
Inno Stage offers several cut-out designs in their heavy-duty steel fire pit rings.
These fire pit rings are portable fire pits for camping, or you can keep them in your backyard. They come in four pieces, are simple to assemble, and also include a carrying case. You can use these fire pit rings by themselves on bare ground or as fire-pit liners.
Best for grilling: Bali Outdoors Wood-Burning Fire Pit with Cooking Grill
Versatile and Sturdy
This fire pit gets high marks for its construction quality.
A traditional wood-burning fire pit on low legs, this outdoor fire pit is particularly sturdy for long-term use thanks to a reinforcing ring around its base. Its unusual design allows for a second-level grill surface: the grill is adjustable up and down and in a 360-degree circle. It also contains an insert to help place logs in criss-cross patterns for better burning and has a small outer ledge around the top.
Why a smokeless fire pit might be your best bet
If you’re sensitive to smoke but still want the feel of a wood-burning fire pit, you might want a smokeless fire pit, a newer technology that’s made to significantly lessen the amount of smoke emitted from a campfire. Some of these use wood logs, and some use wood chips (which you can buy at most big home improvement and hardware stores). They’re vented at the bottom and double-walled for insulation. One drawback, though, is that the flame tends to be vertical—you won’t feel the warmth from more than a few feet away because the heat doesn’t spread out much. That means a smokeless fire pit is not a great pick for a large group, especially if you don’t want to be forced to huddle up directly next to each other. But it can be perfect for close-up use and for grilling, and they’re easily portable for travel.
Best smokeless fire pit: Solo Stove Bonfire Pit
The best pick if you love campfires, but don’t love the lingering smell that comes with them.
This Solo Stove smokeless fire pit is made from brushed-finish stainless steel and looks a bit like a colander on the bottom. It’s designed to feed oxygen to the fire from below, and users agree that it really does take away just about all of the smoke. If you’re going to use this on a wooden deck or grass, be aware that you’ll need to use the stand that’s included with this Solo Stove Bonfire. This outdoor fire pit also comes with a carrying case.
Dial-in the best fire pit experience
Propane fire pits burn cleaner—there’s no smoke or hot embers to deal with afterward—and they’re easier to control; one button turns the fire on and off and you can generally dial it up or down for a bigger or smaller flame. Prices vary widely because propane fire pits can be highly decorative or more utilitarian and can have special features like colored fire glass (which you can also add on if yours comes with standard lava rocks). Also, they generally don’t get as hot as wood-burning fire pits.
Best propane fire pit: Bond Manufacturing Newcastle Propane Firebowl
This propane fire pit looks elegant on a patio.
Hide your propane tank in this stone-look column, with a stainless steel fire bowl and an easy-to-use ignition button and adjustable knob to control the strength of your fire. This outdoor fire pit arrives assembled and ready to use. It comes with lava rocks, but you can swap that out for colored fire glass.
What you can get for under $60
It’s simple to find fire rings under $60 if that’s all you need, but that means you’ll need to have ground suitable for it. If you’re looking for more traditional fire pits, you’re probably sacrificing quality to go for a budget type: cheaper quality metal that’s more prone to rust, thinner metal, less sturdy construction, and fewer accessories such as covers, tools, heat shields, and grills.
But all of that may be fine with you if you’re planning to use a fire pit occasionally, especially if you can store it in a garage or shed between uses instead of expecting it to be a permanent feature on your patio or in your yard.
Best patio fire pit on a budget: Best Choice Products 21.5-inch Outdoor Fire Pit Bowl Table
This kit includes everything you need at a budget price. Best Choice Products
Most fire pits are sold piecemeal: you have to buy accessories and covers separately. With this patio fire pit package, you get a fire pit, fire spark guard, grilling surface, water-resistant cover, poker, and a shelf to store firewood or tools. As with most budget items, though, there are drawbacks. It’s not a great pick if you’re in an area with a lot of rain or humidity, as there are complaints about rust—sometimes it’s best to double up on covers for better protection. It’s also on the flimsy side, but if you store firewood on the shelf, that can help to keep it weighted to the ground.
Best fire pit FAQ:
What is the safest fire pit?
Here’s the bad news: The Consumer Products Safety Commission reported that there were about 3,000 injuries related to fire pits in 2019, a number that may rise as fire pits get more use while families are making more use of their backyards during the pandemic. If you’re looking for the safest fire pit you can find, look for propane or natural gas, not wood (easier to simply turn off at the end and easier to control), and make sure it’s at least 10- to 15-feet away from anything that could be combustible (like your house). A concrete fire pit can add another layer of protection from the danger of metal rusting through and it’s a good idea to add a heat mat underneath if you’re on a grass or wood surface.
Is it OK to leave a fire pit burning overnight?
It is never OK to leave a fire pit burning unattended, even when it’s down to just embers. Those embers are still burning and can kick up unexpectedly even hours later, especially if something falls into the fire pit. It’s important to make sure the fire and any embers are completely out, usually by slowly dousing it with a hose or bucket of water. If that’s impossible, you can use dirt and sand to put out a flame, but it’s less reliable—check on it several times afterward to make sure the fire stays out.
Should you put sand in the bottom of the firepit?
You may have seen people do this before, but should you put sand in the bottom of the firepit? It’s often a good idea, and some metal fire pit manufacturers recommend it in their instructions. One to two inches of sand at the bottom of the pit protects the metal from the extreme heat of fire, distributing it more evenly and absorbing some of the heat. This helps protect the bottom of your outdoor fire pit from oxidizing and degrading. Two downsides, though: sand retains moisture, so if your fire pit stays uncovered or the sand stays wet or damp for any reason, it can make the pit rust faster; and if your fire pit has any holes for ventilation or drainage, you should not cover them with sand or anything else.
The final word on the best fire pit for your backyard
In the end, the best fire pit for you will take into account a combination of what you intend to use it for, the appearance and height you like best, any smoke sensitivities you or your family may have, and your budget. With so many good options, though, you’re bound to find one that’s just right to add the perfect touch to your summer campout.